On Mastering a Fine Art

So, for anyone out there who is still reading this but didn't see what I posted on Facebook or Twitter, I've been accepted to NYU's Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program for this coming fall.


NYMF Roundup: Day 3

Outlaws: The Ballad of Billy the Kid
Book by Perry Liu, Joe Calarco, and Alastair William King
Music by Alastair William King and Perry Liu
Lyrics by Perry Liu

For lack of a better word, Outlaws is badass. Sure, you could write a musical about Billy the Kid and make it totally ordinary. It might even not suck. But it was ingenious of Liu, King, and Calarco to attack the story as rock and roll mythology; sticking only to the barest outline of the facts (there was a Billy the Kid, there was a Pat Garrett, they were criminals for a while, then Garrett turned legit and was involved in taking Billy down) and outfitting it with driving rock score, they have crafted something wholly itself and thoroughly engaging. It’s a rock musical without distancing irony—no magically appearing hand mics here.
The plot is fairly light, and the show could probably be compacted by about five minutes and the intermission deleted (as it is, Outlaws runs less than 1:45 including the break); although the first and last segments could use some clarification, it almost works to have Billy be a history-free, motivationless expression of pure teenage id. It doesn’t hurt that he’s played by the intensely charismatic Corey Boardman. David Murgittroyd is impressive as the hulking, conflicted Garrett; Isabel Santiago works wonders with a huge voice in the marginally underwritten role of a young mother who captures Billy’s heart (and other parts). They are ably assisted by the supporting cast of Antonio Addeo, Justin Gregory Lopez, and Travis McClung as well as a smoking five-piece band led by guitarist Chris Blisset. Jenn Rapp directs and choreographs with aplomb on a set designed by the estimable David Gallo, and Sky Switser's costumes carefully walk the line of contemporary and period.
And then there are the songs. Oh, the songs. I dare you to get "We Do Whatever We Want" out of your head. Hint: you won't be able to. (The main argument for keeping the intermission may be to hear nearly everybody on line for the restroom humming it, as was the case tonight.) It's hard to pick favorites out of the score, but the opening "That's What They Said" (which forms a leimotif throughout), the driving "Gun Song," and the haunting "Little Man" are standouts. I know that Outlaws has been floating around for a long time (it was originally announced to premiere at Signature in Virginia in 2001, but was canceled in the wake of September 11th), but I can't wait to see what comes next.
SCORE: 8 out of 10

NYMF Roundup, Day 2

Date of a Lifetime
Book and Lyrics by Carl Kissin
Music by Rob Baumgartner, Jr.

I fully support any musical with a 70-minute running time. Not that shows shouldn’t be longer, but having the commute that I do back to the suburbs, shorter is generally better. (I can think of only a handful of things I’ve seen in the past fifteen years that should have been longer.) And when a show uses 70 minutes as warmly, cleverly, and hilariously as Date of a Lifetime, well, that’s just icing on the cake. (Made more interesting by the fact that it started as a five-minute monologue by Kissin which then became a 15-minute musical before being expanded to its current length.)
The plot is simple enough—two lonely strangers meet at a speed-dating event and imagine entire lives with each other, lived out in fast forward. It’s not life-altering, to be sure, but it’s enormously warm and funny, and at times surprisingly deep. (Which is less than surprising, considering director Jeremy Dobrish is very good at this—he directed the tonally similar I See London, I See France several NYMFs ago.) And you really can’t ask for better performers for this kind of material than Jamie LaVerdiere and Farah Alvin, both of whom are expert comedians who just happen to have fabulous voices. (Although LaVerdiere might be just a tad too goyishe to pull off some of the Jewishness of the character.)
If there’s anything to quibble about, it’s that some parts of the score fall short of the high standards of the book—although the lyrics are almost invariably clever, the music too often lapses into undistinguished pop without quite evincing its own voice. Nevertheless, there’s a lot to love in the songs: the rollicking opener “It’ll Never Work Out,” the sweet “The Matter,” and the lovely “So Little” stand out.
SCORE: 7 out of 10.